5 Ways That 3-D Printing is Going to Shake Up Retail
For example, industrial processes involving plastic injection molding have, for decades, been limited by the time it takes for molten plastic to cool before a new batch could begin. But with 3-D-printed molds allowing for the innovation of printing cooling channels into products so that they can be cooled quickly by passing water through them, efficiency is being increased as much as 30 percent. 3-D hubs, connecting whole fleets of distributed 3-D printers and making their production capacity available for rent, stand to act as the factories of the future, making fully scalable local production simple to access. Retailers will then have the option of creating products in-house on a made-to-order basis or using locally available mass production as economy-of-scale costs dictate.
5. Savvy retailers will embrace 3-D printing (and have fun with it). Take, for example, the "Let's Create Pottery" app from Infinite Dreams, which invites users to design pottery and submit their designs to be 3-D printed. Shapeways also holds 3-D printing contests, using them to highlight different focuses of 3-D printing's potential and inviting talent and judges from various creative fields, such as 3-D animators, to participate. The creative communities surrounding these concepts are quick to embrace the fun of retail challenges, not to mention the opportunities. Look for increases in contests and new avenues of exposure for artists and designers of new products, with their creations cross-promoted via established retailers.
Bonus point: "4-D printing," which involves creating programmable matter, is coming too, if not a little further down the road. These will be products designed and made of materials that react and change in response to temperature, pressure and force in their environment. Prototypes of such materials already exist. Imagine shoes that could react to the force of your running by becoming sleek, breathable running shoes, then react to walking on grass by growing cleats and turning waterproof, then reacting to walking to work by becoming dress shoes. Picture shoe retailers adapting to products like these, and all retailers adapting to their counterparts throughout the retail industry, and you begin to see just how different the future of retail might (and likely will) be.